By Kallie Gregg
“Lion,” director Garth Davis’ feature film debut, tells the nearly impossible true story of a man on a journey to find a home he can barely remember
At the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, it will contend for five awards—Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Cinematography.
Luke Davies adapted the screenplay from Saroo Brierley’s 2015 memoir “A Long Way Home,” which details Brierley’s attempts to find his family in India after over 20 years of separation and his adoption by an Australian family.
In “Lion,” the audience sees Brierley in two stages of his life, first as a five-year-old in India, then at 25 in Australia. Eight-year-old Sunny Pawar plays the young Brierley and steals the screen in his first-ever acting role.
Brierley was born in Khandwa, India and lived there with his family for the first five years of his life before abruptly being ripped away from them over the course of a single night.
While waiting for his older brother on a train platform late into the night, Brierley mistakenly boards a train bound for Calcutta, some 900 miles away. The people of Calcutta primarily speak Bengali rather than Hindi, leaving Brierley effectively stranded and unable to communicate that he’s lost.
After being homeless for several months and then being moved to an orphanage, Saroo is adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley, a married couple from Tasmania, Australia.
Twenty years later, Saroo, now a young man studying hospitality in Melbourne, is consumed by thoughts of the family in India he never intended to leave behind.
After telling his friends and girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) that he’s adopted, they suggest that he use the recently-invented Google Earth to search for his village in Khandwa.
The implausibility of that discovery would make it difficult for the audience to suspend their disbelief if “Lion” wasn’t based on Brierley’s nonfiction memoir.
Instead, knowing his quest is an adaption of a real man’s life makes “Lion” resonant and moving. In film’s climax, Brierley desperately scrolls and clicks at his laptop while he searches the Indian countryside for a landmark that’s familiar to him.
Although he is nominated in the supporting actor category, Dev Patel is truly a leading man as the grown Saroo. He has less to work with plot-wise than Pawar—the melancholy of the film’s second act is subtler and less action-driven than the first. Nonetheless, his struggle to reconcile memories of his family in India with his adult life in Australia is captivating.
“Lion’s” subject matter could easily push it into cliché, but the charisma of both Pawar and Patel, combined with the biographical plot, steers it firmly into inspirational territory.